Wednesday, 23 February 2022 11:02

Health Brief: Oh, BECA (you’re that special one)


Last week, BECA came to an end after 15 months of work. They even suspended the activities of the BECA Twitter handle on Monday (21 February).

MEPs adopted by a large majority the BECA own-initiative report (652 in favour, 15 against, 27 abstentions), which sets out the main lines of action to fight cancer in Europe.

Important detail: BECA was one of those “special” committees. “Special” because it is ephemeral, unlike the standing committees, and created to deal with very specific subjects.

There are currently two remaining special committees, both with a mandate voted by the Parliament.

“They only have a 12-month mandate – which may be extended – and cannot adopt legislative or binding texts,” Isabelle Marchais, associate researcher in health policy at the Jacques Delors Institute, explained in an interview with EURACTIV.

With a time-limited mandate and no legislative power, one can legitimately wonder about the utility of these committees.

“For some MEPs, who for various reasons do not always find their place in standing committees, this can be an interesting way of expressing themselves on fairly political subjects,” Marchais pointed out.

But it’s true that, in the case of BECA, the fight against cancer in Europe is not a new issue. On 3 February 2021, the day before World Cancer Day, the European Commission took up the subject and presented its European Plan to beat the deadly disease.

Improving early detection of cancer, ensuring access to high-quality care, reducing cancer inequalities in the EU and reducing cancer inequalities and specific agenda: the Commission’s battle plan appears quite solid.

“A great achievement”

So was it necessary to create a special committee dedicated to the fight against cancer in the Parliament? Yes, according to Sara Cerdas, an EU lawmaker with the S&D group and vice-chair of BECA.

“The aim of the BECA committee was to have a European Parliament position on how we fight cancer. The initiative report we voted on is a great achievement,” the MEP told EURACTIV.

“Now we have a position on how we stand on the battle against cancer,” she said.

Working meetings, trips to the headquarters of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, to the University Hospital Centre in Lyon, meetings with experts, doctors, members of civil society… For more than a year, the fight against cancer has been in the spotlight thanks to the work of the dedicated special committee.

The own-initiative report also defined the main priorities in the fight against cancer as prevention, earlier diagnosis, equal access to treatment and improving the quality of life of patients in remission.

According to Jacques Delors’ Marchais, “if the conditions are right, special committees can play an important role in the Parliament and create political momentum as we have seen in the past with the fight against tax fraud and evasion”.

And now what?

But what will happen now that BECA is gone and the report has been voted on? Will Parliament stop talking about cancer?

“It is not going to happen. Cancer is the second cause of death in the EU,” the MEP Cerdas said.

“It is a multi-factor disease. It can be tackled by different committees but more specifically by the ENVI committee,” she added, referring to the European Parliament’s environment committee.

But it’s fair to say the ENVI, BECA’s big sister in the Parliament, has its hands full with some of our biggest issues, with a broad mandate including environment, public health and food safety issues.

Likewise, Marchais agreed that it is “not just because the special committee as such no longer exists that the subject of the fight against cancer will not continue to be addressed within the EU”.

So the issue is now in the hands of the European Commission, who will be considering the proposals put forward by the BECA report to feed into a series of legislative measures on the subject, expected by the end of 2022.

“The European Commission has made this one of the priorities of its mandate and its plan provides for important means and levers,” Marchais added.

The BECA special committee has thus helped to highlight a major public health issue in Europe, but its true strength may lie elsewhere.

For the Jacques Delors Institute researcher, this short mandate will also have been an opportunity to “compensate a little for the EU’s meagre skills in public health, even if we cannot expect a revolution in this area”. Public health is one of the domains regulated by national governments, rather than EU institutions.

A new special committee will soon be created on COVID-19. Let’s see if this is the beginning of a revolution (or not).

Short news

EU news

Caregiving in the EU. The majority of caregiving in the EU is done for free by women, so-called “informal carers”, which further accentuates gender inequalities, according to a report voted in plenary (524 in favour, 33 against, 143 abstentions) by Hungarian MEP Katalin Cseh, vice-president of the Renew group.

Beating cancer. An EU report on beating cancer was adopted by a large majority of MEPs on Wednesday (16 February), after conservatives’ amendments loosened up zero-alcohol recommendations. Members of the conservative European Peoples’ Party (EPP) consider that only “abuse” of alcohol is a risk factor for cancer, not general consumption.

Toy safety. EU lawmakers have approved a report to update the EU’s Toy Safety Directive, which they say no longer meets the necessary standards. The current EU toy safety directive dates back to 2009 and has not been revised since.

EU-AU summit. EU and African leaders laid out a number of promises to secure equitable access to vaccines at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels on Friday (18 February). No decision on lifting intellectual property rights was reached, however.

COVID

Travel from third countries. The Council has updated a recommendation on non-essential travel from third countries. The new recommendations suggest that COVID-19 restrictions should take into account both the situation in the third country and the individual traveller. EU countries should allow in people vaccinated with an EU- or WHO-approved vaccine or recovered. They should also allow people to travel from a country on the EU list. Some additional measures such as PCR testing could apply. The new recommendation will start to apply on 1 March 2022.

mRNA technology transfer hub. On Friday morning (18 February), Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia became the first six countries to receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines from the technology transfer hub in South Africa. The announcement was made at a ceremony by the WHO, hosted by the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, president of France, Emanuel Macron, president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Guidance on contact tracing and quarantine. The WHO has developed guidance on contact tracing and quarantine in light of the global rise in COVID-19 cases with the Omicron variant.

Childhood cancer

Electronic product information

The European Medicines Regulatory Network has adopted a Common Standard for the electronic product information (ePI) on medicines in the EU. The product information on medicine includes the leaflet for patients as well as product characteristics for healthcare professionals. It is supposed to pave the way for more unbiased, up-to-date information on all medicines available to patients.

The Capitals

SOFIA

Bulgaria, soon to abolish COVID pass, begins easing measures. Bulgaria will altogether abolish the green pass on 20 March and start easing many measures this week, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov announced on Monday. By Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg

PRAGUE

Czech anti-vaxxers turning into pro-Russian activists. Groups of Czech activists organising mass demonstrations against COVID-19 measures openly support Russia in its aggression towards Ukraine, and their leader has business ties with Moscow. By Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz

STOCKHOLM

Swedish health authorities warn of a hypothetical new COVID variant. New scenarios modelled by the Swedish Public Health Agency (FHM) anticipate a continued rapid decline in the COVID infection rate and warn that a hypothetical new virus variant could cause infections to increase in spring. By Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com

PARIS

France lifts most COVID-19 measures. Most COVID-19 measures have been lifted in mainland France as of Wednesday (16 February), although some remain recommended. Health Minister Olivier Véran hopes to scale back the vaccine pass currently in force by mid-March. By Davide Basso | EURACTIV.fr

BERLIN

German government, Scholz suffers drastic approval rating drop. The Ukraine crisis and the question of a vaccine mandate have taken their toll on the popularity of Germany’s political leadership, with one in three being “dissatisfied” with Chancellor Olaf Scholz, according to new polls. By Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de

DUBLIN

Ireland moves to end mask requirements. Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommended on Thursday (17th February) that current mask requirements should be removed. By Molly Killeen | EURACTIV.com

ROME

Italy recommends fourth dose for immunocompromised patients. The fourth COVID-19 dose is recommended for immunocompromised patients 120 days after receiving their third booster dose, the Italian Agency of Medicine (AIFA) announced on Sunday. By Eleonora Vasques | EURACTIV.com

BRATISLAVA

Roma in Slovakia: chances of dying from COVID-19 two times higher. Roma people in Slovakia are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 when compared to the rest of the population, a new study conducted by the finance ministry’s value for money department has found. By Michal Hudec | EURACTIV.sk

BUCHAREST

Romania administered half the COVID-19 doses it purchased. Romania only administered half of the 32.5 million COVID-19 vaccines it has received so far, Valeriu Gheorghita, the head of the vaccination campaign, has confirmed. By Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro

Upcoming events

23 February – Developing a framework for evaluating new COVID-19 vaccines

25 February – WHO information meeting on the composition of Influenza virus vaccines

25 February – Webinar – Towards 80% awareness of the European Code Against Cancer in 2025

28 February – Ministerial Conference on Research and Care Pathways: For a European policy on rare diseases

28 February – Launch of the primary health care monitoring framework and indicators by WHO

2 March – Increasing the role of nurses in European plasma collection centers

3 March – how to build recovery and resilience in the EU in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

4 March – Launch of Declaration for National Action Plans on Obesity

4 March – World Obesity Day Europe 2022